Librarians’ Advisory: A Critically Important Reading List

Credit: @GarfieldScreens

When I was in library school, I had an advisor whose almost constant refrain was “Don’t become a librarian just because you love books.” She was trying to impress upon us that libraries are about so much more than physical materials. I still think about her words often, especially as librarians are in the position of providing access to information. In order to do this, we must take the time to engage with and think critically about issues that impact our profession. So here is a librarians’ advisory: a list of six books and related readings covering critical race theory, feminism, intersectionality, bias in the library catalog, and so much more. Each title links to WorldCat so you can find it in a library near you (don’t forget about ILL, too).

Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies Through Critical Race Theory

“In Knowledge Justice, Black, Indigenous, and Peoples of Color scholars use critical race theory (CRT) to challenge the foundational principles, values, and assumptions of Library and Information Science and Studies (LIS) in the United States. They propel CRT to center stage in LIS, to push the profession to understand and reckon with how white supremacy affects practices, services, curriculum, spaces, and policies. The contributors show that the field is deeply invested in the false idea of its own objectivity and neutrality, and they go on to show how this relates to assumptions about race. Through deep analyses of library and archival collections, scholarly communication, hierarchies of power, epistemic supremacy, children’s librarianship, teaching and learning, digital humanities, and the education system, Knowledge Justice challenges LIS to reimagine itself by throwing off the weight and legacy of white supremacy and reaching for racial justice.”

Related reading: Social Justice in Cataloging Annotated Bibliography

Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS

“Using intersectionality as a framework, this edited collection explores the experiences of women of color in library and information science (LIS). With roots in black feminism and critical race theory, intersectionality studies the ways in which multiple social and cultural identities impact individual experience. Libraries and archives idealistically portray themselves as egalitarian and neutral entities that provide information equally to everyone, yet these institutions often reflect and perpetuate societal racism, sexism, and additional forms of oppression. Women of color who work in LIS are often placed in the position of balancing the ideal of the library and archive providing good customer service and being an unbiased environment with the lived reality of receiving microaggressions and other forms of harassment on a daily basis from both colleagues and patrons. This book examines how lived experiences of social identities affect women of color and their work in LIS.”

Related reading: White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS, by April Hathcock

Bookishness: Loving Books in a Digital Age

“Twenty-first-century culture is obsessed with books. In a time when many voices have joined to predict the death of print, books continue to resurface in new and unexpected ways. From the proliferation of “shelfies” to Jane Austen–themed leggings and from decorative pillows printed with beloved book covers to bookwork sculptures exhibited in prestigious collections, books are everywhere and are not just for reading. Writers have caught up with this trend: many contemporary novels depict books as central characters or fetishize paper and print thematically and formally. In Bookishness, Jessica Pressman examines the new status of the book as object and symbol. She explores the rise of “bookishness” as an identity and an aesthetic strategy that proliferates from store-window décor to experimental writing. Ranging from literature to kitsch objects, stop-motion animation films to book design, Pressman considers the multivalent meanings of books in contemporary culture.”

Related reading: Weeding Is Fundamental: On Libraries and Throwing Away Books, by Claire Sewell

Feminist and Queer Information Studies Reader

“In Feminist and Queer Information Studies Reader, Keilty and Dean put the field of Information Studies into critical conversation with studies of gender, sexuality, race, and technology. In classic and original essays, renowned scholars from a range of disciplines think through a broad array of information and technology philosophies and practices. Conceiving of “information” in a broad sense, the contributors reevaluate conventional methods and topics within Information Studies to examine encounters with information phenomena and technology that do not lend themselves easily to the scientific and behaviorist modes of description that have long dominated the field. A Foreword, Introduction, and Afterword provide helpful context to the reader’s 27 essays, arranged around topics that include information as gendered labor, cyborgs and cyberfeminism, online environments, information organization, information extraction and flow, archives, and performance.”

Related reading: Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves, by Fobazi Ettarh

Not Free, Not for All: Public Libraries In the Age of Jim Crow

“In Not Free, Not for All, Cheryl Knott traces the establishment, growth, and eventual demise of separate public libraries for African Americans in the South, disrupting the popular image of the American public library as historically welcoming readers from all walks of life. Using institutional records, contemporaneous newspaper and magazine articles, and other primary sources together with scholarly work in the fields of print culture and civil rights history, Knott reconstructs a complex story involving both animosity and cooperation among whites and blacks who valued what libraries had to offer. African American library advocates, staff, and users emerge as the creators of their own separate collections and services with both symbolic and material importance, even as they worked toward dismantling those very institutions during the era of desegregation.”

Related reading: A History of US Public Libraries, by the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)

Cruising the Library: Perversities In the Organization of Knowledge

“Cruising the Library offers a highly innovative analysis of the history of sexuality and categories of sexual perversion through a critical examination of the Library of Congress and its cataloging practices. Taking the publication of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemologies of the Closet as emblematic of the Library’s inability to account for sexual difference, Melissa Adler embarks upon a detailed critique of how cataloging systems have delimited and proscribed expressions of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and race in a manner that mirrors psychiatric and sociological attempts to pathologize non-normative sexual practices and civil subjects. … Cruising the Library provides us with a critical understanding of library science, an alternative view of discourses around the history of sexuality, and an analysis of the relationship between governmentality and the cataloging of research and information — as well as categories of difference — in American culture.”

Related reading: Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction, by E. Drabinski



Claire is an academic librarian in Houston, Texas. She has also worked at a public library and with special collections and archives.

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Claire Sewell

Claire is an academic librarian in Houston, Texas. She has also worked at a public library and with special collections and archives.